In 1971, somewhere around harvest time in California, a group of San Rafael High School students known as “the Waldos,” because they liked to congregate outside class against a wall, inherited a map. It allegedly led to a crop of abandoned cannabis plants near the Point Reyes Peninsula Coast Guard station, just up the coast from San Francisco. The friends planned to meet after school at 4:20 p.m. to see if the map was real. For weeks, the Waldos gathered at 4:20 and hopped in a ’66 Chevy Impala, smoking joints the whole way out. The Waldos never actually found the hidden treasure, yet the term “420” became embedded in their dialogue, referring to their favorite plant while teachers and parents were conveniently left in the dark.
While the Waldos pioneered the term, their connections with the inner circle of the Grateful Dead catapulted the propagation of 420 into our language. One Waldos’ father helped the Dead with real estate, another Waldos’ brother was tight with Phil Lesh, and all of the Waldos had all-access passes to the Dead’s rehearsals, shows, and afterparties, where the term was put to good use during the 1970s and 1980s.
This story was originally published April 2018.